The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA is greatly alarmed by the arrest of 21 members of the Chicoyogüito community during a peaceful demonstration in Cobán on June 9. The peaceful protest, to ask the authorities for the return of their ancestral lands, was violently repressed by agents of the National Civil Police. Several people were beaten and injured. During the detention of the 21 men, due process, including the right to be brought promptly before a competent judge, has been violated.
These arrests take place in a context of systematic violation of the rights of indigenous peoples, increased criminalization of defenders, and a weakening of the rule of law.
In 1968 the Q’eqchi families of the community of Chicoyogüito in Alta Verapaz were dispossessed and uprooted from their land by the Guatemalan state. In their place, the government built Military Base #21, a center where the army carried out forced disappearance, torture, execution, and burial of hundreds of indigenous men, women, and children.
For 53 years, the surviving families have asked state institutions for the return of their lands, to return to their homes, and to dignify the memory of the victims. Their just demands have fallen on deaf ears. Moreover, for seeking the restitution of their lands, the families have been threatened and persecuted. Their constitutional right to demonstrate and protest peacefully has been continually denied.
Therefore, we urge the government of Guatemala to comply with its obligation to respect rights and freedoms, principally the right to life and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. As highlighted in ILO Convention 169: “Indigenous peoples shall enjoy the full measure of human rights and fundamental freedoms, without hindrance or discrimination.”
We request, in the face of such a grave situation, the immediate release of the 21 people arbitrarily detained and the response to their basic demands for their human rights, the right to life, the right to existence, and the right to their land and territory.
The detained men’s first appearance before a judge is scheduled for June 18. GHRC will accompany the families of Chicoyogüito in the search for justice, honor the memory of the innocent people buried in the mass graves of Military Base #21, and observe the proceedings against the 21 Q’eqchi men who are detained.
We will keep you updated on their status, as well as on the status of the repressive NGO Law, set to go into effect on Monday, June 21.